Posted on: June 21, 2022

HAZWOPER vs HAZMAT: What's the Difference?

hazwoper vs hazmat

In the world of safety compliance training, there are a lot of HAZes: HAZWOPER, HAZMAT, HazCom. It's easy to mix them up, especially since none of the names give obvious hints about the content.

All three are required training related to dangerous materials, but they target different audiences and safety measures.

So, exactly what is the difference between HazCom, HAZWOPER, and HAZMAT?

What is HazCom?

Out of all three HAZes, HazCom training is probably the most common. It's required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for anyone exposed to hazardous chemicals under normal working conditions.

What Does HazCom Stand For?

HazCom stands for the Hazardous Communication Standard (HCS).

There's more to HCS than training, including requirements for hazard classification, standardized labeling, in-depth Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), and a written hazard communication program.

But training workers is an important part.

What is HazCom Training? Who Needs It?

HazCom requires workers to be trained if they'll be exposed to chemical hazards during the course of their normal duties. They need to learn about the HCS, and they must be trained to recognize chemical hazards, understand HazCom labels, and how to protect themselves.

As an OSHA-authorized provider, we offer online HCS/GHS training. We can even supply you with posters and other useful job aids to ensure that workers can use HCS labels and SDS packets correctly in a crisis.

MSHA - HazCom Overview


What Kind of Hazardous Substances are Covered Under HazCom?

OSHA's HazCom standard covers a lot of different hazards, as we've discussed in the past. That includes chemicals with physical hazards (like explosives), health hazards, combustible dust, asphyxiants, and more.

What is HAZWOPER Training?

HAZWOPER is another OSHA standard, designed specifically for workers who clean up, treat, store, and dispose of hazardous waste.

What Does HAZWOPER Stand For?

The HAZWOPER acronym stands for HAZardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response.

Who Needs HAZWOPER Training?

OSHA only requires HAZWOPER training for three categories of workers and their supervisors:

  • Emergency responders
  • Operators at uncontrolled hazardous waste sites
  • Personnel at TSD (Treatment, Storage, and Disposal) facilities

Even uncontrolled hazardous waste sites and TSD facilities have some workers who might not need HAZWOPER training. If the employer can demonstrate that their exposure isn't a "reasonable possibility," jobs like gate guard qualify as exempt.

HAZWOPER 24-hour Course


HAZWOPER 40-hour Course

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HAZWOPER 8-hour Annual Refresher


What Kind of Substances Are Covered Under HAZWOPER?

The HAZWOPER standard applies to hazardous substances, defined as:

  • Any substance defined in the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERLA)
  • Any biological agent or other disease-causing agent
  • Any substance listed by the US Department of Transportation as a hazardous material
  • Hazardous waste as defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

What Is the Difference Between HazCom and HAZWOPER?

HazCom and HAZWOPER apply to different sets of substances, though there's definitely overlap. For example, substances defined under HAZWOPER often have properties that put them under HazCom as well.

Where substances overlap, circumstances and responsibilities can also set the two apart. Both HazCom and HAZWOPER require emergency procedure training.

Employees that respond to emergency spills require first-responder-level HAZWOPER training. But incidental leaks and spills of the same substances aren't covered by HAZWOPER. Neither are employees who simply evacuate during an emergency spill. These situations will only require emergency procedures training that satisfies HazCom.

Finally, HAZWOPER training is much longer and more in-depth. For most workers, HazCom training lasts a few hours at most, and employers can give refresher training whenever they feel it's appropriate. HAZWOPER requires a 24- or 40-hour initial training, based on risk level[MB1] , plus an 8-hour refresher every year.

Our online HAZWOPER courses fulfill your instructional requirements and seriously cut your classroom hours. But keep in mind that HAZWOPER initial training explicitly requires some facetime, including in-person PPE practice and multiple supervised workdays. This should be provided by your employer after your coursework is complete.

What is HAZMAT?

The term "HAZMAT" can be used in a lot of ways, like describing special protective gear.

But when people refer to "HAZMAT compliance" or "HAZMAT training," they're usually talking about the US Department of Transportation (DOT)'s Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR).

DOT HMR requirements ensure that dangerous substances are transported and handled safely, whether they're taken by road, rail, water, or air.

What is HAZMAT Training?

If you're not sure what someone is referring to when they say "HAZMAT training," it can never hurt to ask for clarification. But it typically refers to mandatory compliance training on the DOT's HAZMAT regulations.

HAZMAT training is a combination of multiple required components:

  • General Awareness training, which outlines the HMR and teaches you to recognize and identify hazardous materials
  • Function-Specific training, which teaches you to comply with the HMR based on your job functions
  • Safety training, including emergency response and avoiding accidents
  • Security Awareness training on the relevant security risks, how to enhance security, and how to recognize/respond to a possible security threat
  • In-Depth Security training, which is specific to each employer's mandatory security plan
  • Modal- or Carrier-Specific training, which covers the regulations that apply only to the relevant transportation type (rail, aircraft, vessel, or public highway)

Due to all of these different requirements, workers typically need multiple courses to complete their HAZMAT training.

For example, we offer online HAZMAT courses for standalone Security Awareness and standalone General Awareness, as well as several single-function courses and four carrier-specific courses. These single-topic courses allow entry-level workers to customize training to their individual needs.

But we also offer a course that combines General Awareness, Security Awareness, and function-specific training for multiple roles. This might be useful for someone who supervises an entire team (though they would still need to purchase carrier-specific training).

For an administrator or manager responsible for multiple roles and modes of transportation, we have another course with General Awareness, Security Awareness, multiple functions, and all four carrier requirements. With a course that comprehensive, all you'd need would be training on your employer's specific policies.

Who Needs HAZMAT Training?

"HazMat employers" must provide training to "HazMat employees" in the areas of HMR that are relevant to their jobs.

The DOT regulations say that a HazMat employer is a person or entity who uses employee(s) in connection with:

  • Transporting hazardous materials in commerce
  • Causing hazardous materials to be shipped in commerce
  • Repairing or modifying the containers/drums/packages used in the transportation of hazardous materials

Not everyone who works for a HazMat employer needs training, however – only HazMat employees. A HazMat employee is anyone whose job duties directly affect the safety of HazMat transportation. This can include (but isn't limited to) activities like:

  • Handling, loading, or unloading hazardous materials
  • Preparing hazardous materials for transportation
  • Operating a vehicle that is transporting hazardous materials
  • Exercising responsibility for the safety of hazardous material transportation
  • Manufacturing, testing, reconditioning, repairing, modifying, marking, or otherwise representing containers/drums/packages as qualified for use in the transportation of hazardous materials

DOT Hazmat: Basic General Awareness


What Kind of Substances Are Covered by DOT Hazardous Materials Regulations?

The DOT defines a hazardous material as one posing an "unreasonable risk to health, safety, and property when transported in commerce." That includes substances that are toxic, corrosive, flammable, or explosive.

That's the neat version.

The messy version specifically includes:

  • Hazardous substances in the HMR's (very large and complicated) Hazardous Materials Table
  • Hazardous wastes, as defined by the EPA
  • Marine pollutants defined in the HMR
  • Elevated temperature materials defined in the HMR
  • Materials that meet the defining criteria for HMR hazard classes and divisions

What is the Difference Between HAZMAT and HAZWOPER?

HAZMAT and HAZWOPER training cover different regulations that are managed by separate agencies. But since they both cover substances from other standards by reference, there's significant overlap.

However, HAZMAT and HAZWOPER apply to different (and usually separate) sets of workers. HAZMAT training is more common than HAZWOPER since more workers and more substances are affected by DOT's regulations than the HAZWOPER standard.

There's also a difference in length and frequency. HAZWOPER training is long with clearly-defined hours. The length of HAZMAT, on the other hand, depends heavily on your role, making it a few hours long for some roles and much longer for people up the ladder.

HAZMAT training generally requires less frequent refreshers, though. HAZWOPER requires annual training, while most HAZMAT training topics run on a 2-3 year schedule.

HAZWOPER vs HAZMAT: We "Has" the HAZ You Need

As an OSHA-authorized provider with over 20 years of experience providing online safety compliance training, we have HazCom, HAZMAT, and HAZWOPER courses to meet your needs.

Buying for a team or group? Reach out to us for bulk rates and a browser-based Learning Management System!